If you ever travelled through the Atlantic coast of Morocco, you might have been astounded by the surrealistic sight of a goat, or a group of goats, jumping and climbing the trees widespread across the Marrakech to Essaouira highway. They are spending the hours eating the leaves and fruits of the Argania spinosa, a twisted, thorny shrub endemic to the region that holds the magical elixir of Sahara: the brilliant Argan Oil.
Popularly known as ‘The Gift of God’ and ‘Liquid Gold’ for its many uses and healing benefits, Argan Oil has been used by Berbers over thousands of years as a culinary ingredient and also as a beauty essential. It is rich in Omega 6 acids and Vitamin E: it heals, repairs, regenerates and rejuvenates the skin, making it a powerful anti-aging ideal for dry and sensitive skin.
Argan Oil was traditionally hand-produced by women using primitive stone tools. The process has been partially mechanised in recent years, but it is still a time-consuming, back-breaking artisanal labour that starts in late summer when the fruit, which resembles a giant olive, turns gold and the harvest begins. Argan seeds consist of three layers that need to be removed: a tough outer skin, a fleshy middle, and a hard nut with one to three kernels — it takes 30 kg of nuts to get 2 kg of kernels that will yield 1l of oil. To sum the process, once the seeds are collected, nuts are cracked and kernels will be pressed before filtering and obtaining the precious liquid. Culinary Argan Oil, made out of previously roasted kernels, will show an orangish colour and a nutty flavour, while cosmetic Argan is a more yellow shade and a lighter scent.
Nothing is wasted from the Argan. Besides providing employment in the many women’s co-operatives that extract the magical elixir, the fleshy fruit makes food for the cattle and nuts shells are burned for fuel. And it also plays an important role against desertification, helping to prevent soil erosion and protect scarce water resources. This complex and at the same time fragile ecosystem, designated UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1988, is what Berbers are learning to harvest and care for. Not only because there’s a flourishing industry, mainly because Argan is the miracle seed that has nurtured Sahara’s local communities over the centuries.